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Newsletter: The long, grim road ahead

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The White House extends nationwide coronavirus guidelines until the end of April. Officials say up to 200,000 may die in the U.S.

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The Long, Grim Road Ahead

President Trump has announced that federal social distancing guidelines meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus will be extended to April 30, setting aside his calls to jump-start the U.S. economy within another two weeks and fill churches on Easter Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, called the guidelines extension a “wise and prudent” decision. Fauci said that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans might die in the outbreak, and that millions would be infected. More than 2,400 had died as of Sunday.

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Many stay-at-home orders were imposed by states such as California and municipalities before the federal guidelines took effect; as a result, many of those closures and restrictions would have continued regardless of whether Trump declared he was easing the federal guidelines.

Still, it was a recognition that life is unlikely to return to normal anytime soon.

Meanwhile, states are continuing to call for more federal help to fight the outbreak. Some governors have begun to take a different tack, articulating their states’ needs while ignoring Trump’s insults and demands, after Trump openly criticized governors who were reluctant to praise his leadership and suggested their states could suffer as a result.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — whom Trump has derided on Twitter as “half-Whit” — touted her cooperative relationship with Vice President Mike Pence. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, also the object of Trump’s withering remarks, sought to turn the other cheek and focus on his state’s needs and his “good partnership” with federal authorities.

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Trump has even praised California Gov. Gavin Newsom as being “terrific” amid the crisis. Newsom gave a message of personal thanks to the president upon the arrival of the Navy hospital ship Mercy in Los Angeles. And when he said the federal government had sent L.A. County 170 ventilators that arrived “not working,” he chose to highlight how a Silicon Valley was fixing the equipment rather than complain.

A Cautionary Tale

With the coronavirus quickly spreading in Washington state in early March, leaders of the Skagit Valley Chorale in Mount Vernon debated whether to go ahead with weekly rehearsal. The virus was already killing people in the Seattle area, about an hour’s drive to the south. But Skagit County hadn’t reported any cases, schools and businesses remained open, and prohibitions on large gatherings had yet to be announced.

Sixty singers showed up. A greeter offered hand sanitizer at the door, and members refrained from the usual hugs and handshakes. Nearly three weeks later, 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or ill with the symptoms, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead.

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The outbreak has stunned county health officials, who have concluded that the virus was almost certainly transmitted through the air from one or more people without symptoms.

Concern in the Jails

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, inside the sprawling L.A. County jails, which typically house about 17,000 people. But cases have emerged at lockups elsewhere, and some say it’s only a matter of time before the nation’s largest jail system must deal with an outbreak.

The conditions there have raised alarms among civil rights advocates and inmates, who say social distancing is impossible when more than 100 people are crowded into a dorm and some bunks are three feet apart. Inmates, they said, may go days without the cleaning supplies needed to keep themselves safe.

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“This is worse than a cruise ship,” said one inmate, who has been in jail for almost a year and a half, in a phone interview from the Twin Towers facility.

Far From Safe

In the Navajo Nation, officials are mounting a desperate effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The largest Native American reservation — which spans portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — is an extremely rural area larger than West Virginia, with roughly 175,000 residents and only four inpatient hospitals.

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus on the reservation came on March 17, but just days later, the Navajo Nation announced that the number had jumped to more than 100. With limited testing, many fear the number of people infected could be far higher.

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More Top Coronavirus Headlines

California officials are warning the number coronavirus cases will spike in the coming weeks. Hospital ICU beds have begun filling up with patients, and officials are trying to enforce unprecedented social distancing measures, which they believe are the state’s best chance to slow the spread.

— The Pentagon has been waging a two-front war against the coronavirus outbreak, ramping up assistance in hard-hit states as commanders battled to prevent widespread infections in the ranks that could force them to curtail military operations around the globe.

— The FDA has given emergency approval for a coronavirus test from Abbott Laboratories that can tell if someone is infected in as little as five minutes.

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— Life at many of Florida’s retirement villages has come to a standstill, with complaints from some and calls for additional safeguards from others.

— Former Vice President Joe Biden is calling for an immediate nationwide stay-at-home order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, saying the main mistake that leaders can make in a pandemic is “going too slow.”

— Will the coronavirus make permanent our diminishing need for human contact? A glimpse from South Korea.

Plus, here are some tips on getting through the days ahead. For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter that will help you understand more about COVID-19. As with all our newsletters, it’s free:

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— FAQ: Your top questions answered.

How to care for someone with COVID-19.

— Nervous about grocery shopping? Here’s how to get what you need faster.

— Working from home with a roommate or loved one? Here are five ways to avoid blowing up.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

On March 29, 1943, the L.A. Board of Education “adopted a resolution ordering a change in the method of saluting the American Flag, whereby the right hand will be placed over the heart throughout the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance,” The Times wrote the next day.

The move came after Congress had amended the flag code on Dec. 22, 1942, to replace the old salute, which started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down and ended with palm up. The old method was found to be too similar to salutes used by U.S. enemies during World War II.

March 29, 1943: Vierling Kersey, superintendent of L.A. schools, left, and Roy J. Becker, Board of Education president, demonstrate old and new methods of saluting Old Glory.
March 29, 1943: Vierling Kersey, superintendent of L.A. schools, left, and Roy J. Becker, Board of Education president, demonstrate old and new methods of saluting Old Glory.
(Frank Q. Brown / Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA

— Officials say Lonnie David Franklin Jr., the so-called Grim Sleeper serial killer who preyed on Los Angeles women for more than two decades, died while on death row at San Quentin prison.

— Former Los Angeles Councilman Mitchell Englander has reached a plea agreement in an obstruction-of-justice case that involved envelopes of cash, a trip to a Las Vegas casino, a female escort sent to a hotel room.

— Seth Tom Davis and his support dog, Poppy, were stranded at LAX since Christmas Eve. Then the coronavirus outbreak hit.

— As gray whales began their northern migration along the Pacific coast, earlier this month — after a year of unusually heavy die-offs — scientists were poised to watch. But the coronavirus has upended their work.

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Nate ’n Al’s, the legendary Jewish delicatessen in Beverly Hills since 1945, has closed for the time being amid the coronavirus crisis. “Our goal is to keep the Nate ‘n Al’s tradition alive,” a spokesman says.

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NATION-WORLD

— In hard-hit Louisiana, some churches defied the governor’s order for people to stay at home and held Sunday services.

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are highly vulnerable to the pandemic, but they are also dependent on the U.S. for economic and security assistance. Despite fears of the virus spreading, all three are continuing to accept deportation flights from the U.S., but only for their own citizens.

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— Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been criticized at home and abroad for what many called a lackadaisical posture toward the coronavirus. But in recent days he’s urged people to stay home and to practice social distancing, as virus cases have begun surging.

— After laying off more than 300 staff members, Portland’s cherished indie bookstore Powell’s Books says it has rehired more than 100 of its workers on the strength of online orders.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— CBS News veteran Maria Mercader has died from complications of COVID-19. She is believed to be the first media executive to die as a result of the pandemic.

Hollywood faces huge losses from the coronavirus. Can the insurance industry bail it out?

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Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood will host a live concert from their home studio on CBS on Wednesday. Last week, a concert of theirs reportedly crashed Facebook Live.

— Would Mister Rogers know how to make us feel better right now? His wife, Joanne, explains how Fred dealt with tragedy in the news.

BUSINESS

— In another warning sign of how hard the coronavirus crisis may punish the U.S. economy, American consumer confidence in March saw its sharpest drop since the Great Recession in 2008.

— Two Army vets want to mass produce $100 ventilators, but the roadblocks they’ve hit provide a harsh lesson in how business works.

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SPORTS

Esports were built for quarantine culture. With hundreds of millions now shut in for the time being, they may have their moment.

— According to our NFL mock draft, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa will go early.

OPINION

— The United States and China have turned the pandemic into a battle zone in their struggle for global influence. And so far, the U.S. is losing ground, columnist Doyle McManus writes.

— A virus is raging. The economy is in free fall. Trump’s approval rating is still going up. A Harvard professor explains why, and why that may be short-lived.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Why did large-scale coronvirus testing not happen in the U.S. early on? Technical flaws, regulatory hurdles, business-as-usual bureaucracies and lack of leadership at multiple levels, according to interviews. (New York Times)

— Albert Camus’ novel “The Plague” is seeing a boom in sales. His daughter hopes people today will learn from it. (The Guardian)

ONLY IN L.A.

In case you didn’t get the memo (or the emergency alert on your phone), you need to stay home. Most beaches, trails, recreation facilities as well as nonessential businesses are closed because of state and local orders. Many people have obeyed. Some haven’t. Police in cruisers and helicopters have had to shoo hikers and skateboarders away. And in Manhattan Beach, one man who ignored numerous warnings by police and lifeguards received a $1,000 citation for surfing.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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